Category Archives: People

A Gentleman’s Guide to Cooking for his Gentleman

14 February, 2017
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by Vikram Doctor

Brown rice doesn’t have the best of reputations.

I am not talking, of course, of the Parsi version, dyed a rich dark brown with caramel and served as an accompaniment to dhansak.

But real brown rice, cooked with the husk on. Its known to be nutritious, but also a bore. All too often it becomes edible chewing gum, coarse and heavy to eat with endless chewing and leaden in the stomach.
 
Yet brown rice can be delicious the way I make it for my boyfriend and me. Like many Indian men he’s finicky about food and has just turned vegetarian. A New Year’s resolution which is still going strong in February so it might be lasting.

Start with the rice. Never brown basmati. Overused as it is, basmati still has its place at the table, but I’m not sure that brown basmati does. It neither works as brown rice or basmati.

I use Indrani, an excellent variety grown in the Konkan close to Mumbai. It is rounded and cooks soft, but doesn’t collapse into mush too easily and has a great ability to absorb aromas. You can get good brown Indrani at organic food stores or the Farmer’s Market that takes place in winters in Bandra. But I’ve also found it being sold on the road to Goa, on the interior route which we take when we drive down with Sheroo, our black Lab. After the national highway, when we turn off at Nippani to cut across the fields of the Deccan plateau and then the ghats down to the Konkan, on the side you will find local traders selling rice, papads, pickles all locally grown and made. It’s a good place to stop and buy brown Indrani.

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The key with brown rice is soaking it. A few hours at least and perhaps even all night. This is the one thing you need to remember in advance, but soon it becomes routine. Soak and then wash away the cloudy water and wash again and again and once more.

Next make the base. It can just be onions, but is much better with other vegetables as well. Carrots are very good, adding sweetness and vivid colour. Zucchini gives a green edge and releases so much water you should add less.

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Chop the onions and other vegetables finely. A food processor helps a lot here. I’m not giving quantities. You should guess what works in your pressure cooker. Because of course you have a pressure cooker.  

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Put it on the fire and heat some oil or ghee. If its oil I prefer sesame, the original, ancient oil of India though surprisingly hard to find. I buy mine in a bookshop, the Gandhi Book Centre near Grant Road station, where it comes cold pressed from the Yusuf Mehrally Centre in Panvel outside Mumbai.

Or use ghee, which can’t be beaten for taste. Coimbatore’s ghee is famous in Tamil Nadu where I grew up and you can find it in Mumbai in P.Ramalingam’s shop in Matunga, just as you climb down from the Z-bridge walkway.
 
I also use buffalo ghee which is excellent and stupidly looked down on by people who fetishize cows. Buffalos are far more suited to India, produce excellent milk replete with butterfat from which really excellent ghee can be made. I buy it from the Punjab & Sind stall in Khar, at least partly because it’s also an excuse to buy some of their wonderful, lightly salted and soft paneer.
 
We’re almost ready to start, but of course there has to be a secret ingredient. Not my secret as much as that of professional caterers who use it to add flavour to their rice dishes. Sometimes they are unscrupulous about it since what it adds is the nutty, almost popcorn aroma that is close to basmati, and that’s what they will claim they used.

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Samar Gupta of Trikaya Agro grows it at his farm in Talegaon near Mumbai, but ever since he shut his stall at Crawford Market it’s become harder to find. Luckily Sunil, the smartest vegetable seller in Mumbai sells it from his stall at Pali Market.
 
You can trust Sunil to get produce no one else in Mumbai has – and to sell it to you for a price that reflects this. Luckily you can get a large quantity of pandan leaves for Rs100 and they will last you a while in your fridge. They actually seem to become more aromatic as they wither and dry.
 
Now it’s quick. Sauté the chopped onions in the hot oil or ghee. When they’re getting brown add the chopped up veggies. When these are well cooked – you want to braise them rather than fry them, so add dashes of water if it’s getting too dry – add the drained rice, a few pandan leaves, plenty of water and then just enough salt. You want all the flavours to come through, so too much salt is a mistake.

When the water has just started boiling close the pressure cooker lid – but don’t put on the weight. Kavita Mukhi who runs the Farmer’s Market gave me this tip for brown rice. She said the steamy heat of the almost closed cooker will work on the rice, but the slight escape for the steam prevents the rice overheating and destroying the nutrients.

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Cooking it this way also prevents the rice become mush. You want it soft and slightly sticky, but not mush. And when you cook it this way with pandan leaves the steam that escapes is replete with that wonderful warm aroma, making everything in your kitchen and house smell better.
 
The only problem is that the aroma will make you insanely hungry. And you shouldn’t hurry this, since you want the rice to cook well, till most of the water is absorbed or evaporated. As it cooks you will see a plume of steam coming off the cooker, and when it looks like it’s slowing down, that’s roughly when you know it’s done.
 
And here is the other advantage of the unweighted cooking method. Since it doesn’t allow the steam to build up to scary levels, you can open the cooker almost at once. Release the lid and let it drop on its own and then savour the intense burst of warm rice aroma that surges up with the steam. Fluff up the rice with a big spoon, remove the pandan leaves.

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Vikram Doctor’s On My Plate column has the best of reputations and his Real Food Podcasts make for a most charming Valentine’s date.

Our mascot Manuel is ready in red courtesy Cyrus Daruwala.

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Mr. Leo, the lion of Aden

7 April, 2016
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0 R

People: Messrs Cowasjee Dinshaw & Bros. (1854)

A post from the guest city of Aden, Yemen.

Daily business at the firm of Messrs Cowasjee Dinshaw & Bros. in Aden was determined by Mr Leo, an African lion gifted to the Dinshaws by the ruler of Abyssinia. Here Mr Leo is seen taking ‘his usual bath’ surrounded by the firm’s staff.

In Bombay on the other hand, such activity would have taken you straight to the magistrate, as three Persians roaming the city with a cheetah found out in January 1870.

This post has been kindly sponsored by the Adenwalla family.

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A Gentleman’s Guide to Cooking

14 February, 2016
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by Fabian Panthaki

This Valentine’s Day a Gentleman cooks Akoori for his sweetoolies.

Akoori is a classic Parsi late-morning breakfast offering. It is best served generously – in large quantities, to a large group of devoted eaters and without bothering about calories.

This adapted version, with a few international additions and using my father’s hand-made garam masala (I’ve substituted for individual spices here), is my go-to dish for leisurely Sunday brunches that involve bunches of friends. Along with some chai, of course.

What you need (to serve 4)

Oil; a little
Butter; dollops of
Onions; 2 large, finely chopped
Tomatoes; 4 large, finely chopped
Red chilli powder; ½ tsp 
Turmeric powder; ½ tsp Cumin powder; 1 tsp

Eggs; 8, beaten well
Strong hard cheese; 2 tbsp, grated (Mature Cheddar, pecorino, or grana padano are ideal)
Coriander leaves; big handful
Sumac; 1 tbsp
Tabasco Green Pepper sauce; 1 tbsp
Salt
White bread; sliced, medium-toasted

What you need to do

1) In a big pot, heat the butter and oil and saute the onions over a medium flame until they are golden-brown (pic 1, see gallery above).

2) Add the spices and continue cooking for 3-4 minutes. Add in the tomatoes, and sauté till they go deep-red. Add a glass of water and let simmer until dry, mashing all the while to soften thoroughly (pic 2).

3) Add some more butter, and stir in the eggs and cheese. Gently, and at occasional intervals, scrape away the thickenings from where they stick to the bottom of the pan.

4) Mix in the coriander leaves, sumac, and Tabasco sauce. Leave it ever-so-slightly runny and fluffy.

5) Taste; add salt and some more butter for perfection. Garnish with coriander leaves (pic 3).

6) Spoon onto slices of buttered toast, and serve along with a cuppa of strong adrak-pudina chai. 


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A Gentleman’s Guide to Cooking

13 December, 2015
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Avial by Naman Ramachandran

In the second post of our Gentleman’s Guide to Cooking series, Rajnikanth’s biographer Naman Ramachandran seduces his wife with some South Indian spice!

Laxmi is very much a Bombay girl and she writes extensively about the Minimum City, but a little known fact is that she was born in Trivandrum to Palghat Iyer parents, which means that Avial is part of her DNA.

Before we get to the recipe, a digression. Kerala’s neighbouring state Tamil Nadu and parts of coastal Karnataka also claim Avial as their own. Nice try, but sorry, Avial is very much a Kerala dish. Besides, in Tamil Nadu, they have a curious ritual of serving Avial only at tiffin time as an accompaniment to Adai, rather than as the magnificent centrepiece of a Sadya. They lost me at tiffin.

Looking back at the origins of Avial it would appear that during the events that make up the Mahabharata, King Virata had some unexpected guests and Bhima used whatever vegetables were at hand to whip up what came to be known as Avial. Another story, also from the Mahabharata, suggests that Bhima, after emerging unscathed from a Kaurava poisoning attempt, cooked a medley of vegetables together and it was called Avial. A more plausible story is that the King of Travancore gave a great feast but ran out of food and what was hurriedly cooked together became Avial. Since the capital of Travancore is Trivandrum, Laxmi’s birthplace, I’m going with the Kerala origin story. Besides, Kerala is home to an awesome rock band called Avial, so that’s that.

Despite the jumble origins of the dish, Avial is a precision dish that requires careful monitoring:

-Take a cup each of ash gourd/snake gourd, raw plantain, cucumber, drumsticks, beans and yam and cut them into equal, little finger size batons. Cut some pieces of raw mango.

-Cover with just enough water to boil the vegetables and let it stew, periodically checking the hardness. After around five minutes or so, add the mangoes, salt to taste and half a teaspoon of turmeric. Cook until just done. The vegetables must be cooked a little more than al dente, but not to the point of mush. You can also pressure cook the vegetables, but only one whistle please, otherwise they’ll start disintegrating.

-While the vegetables boil, grind together into a coarse paste in a blender a cup of grated coconut, a teaspoon of cumin and some green chillies (keep in mind that Avial is traditionally a mild dish). Add this paste to the cooked vegetables and mix well, on a low flame. Switch off the flame and add sour curd (if the curd isn’t sour enough add more raw mango in the vegetable boiling process) and mix thoroughly.

-In a separate pan, add a stem of curry leaves to a tablespoon of coconut oil. When the leaves begin to sputter, pour it over the vegetables. And, just like that, your Avial is ready. Serve hot over Palakkad Matta rice and with some pappadam on the side.

Millennia after Kerala invented the Avial, Bombay borrowed the same idea of using left over vegetables to concoct a dish. Much like how the bereft of ideas Bollywood routinely remakes South Indian hits, Bombay took the idea, changed the spicing and vegetables, mashed them up and served it with a bun, butter, lime and chopped onions. Pau Bhaji, you know who your daddy is now. It should come as no surprise that the best street Pau Bhaji vendors in Bombay, on DN Road and PM Road, are all Malayalees.

Naman is also the writer of the Sundance 2016 nominated Brahman Naman , a film about a team of misfits making an alcohol-fuelled journey across India, to compete in the National Quiz, determined to defeat all and desperate to lose their virginities.

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A Gentleman’s Guide to Cooking

14 February, 2015
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by Tariq Ali

For breakfast, my lady has rice with either chana (chickpeas) or rajma (kidney beans). To my lady’s breakfast, I contribute the mamlet – the Bangladeshi omelette.

To make a mamlet, you need:

1 egg
1 tablespoon finely chopped onion
1 finely chopped green chili
A pinch of salt
1 tablespoon of oil

1. Over a medium high heat, heat the oil in a frying pan.

2. While the oil heats, beat together the egg, onion, chili and salt.

3. When the oil is very hot, ladle half the egg mixture into the oil, spreading it out in a thin layer. It should sizzle as soon as it hits the oil – if it doesn’t, the oil isn’t hot enough.

4. In about 30 seconds, flip the mamlet with a spatula. In about another 30 seconds, take it out of the pan – it is done.

5. Add the remainder of the egg and repeat, for two, thin, pancake-like mamlets (see gallery of photos above).

My lady has her mamlet with rice, chana or rajma, sliced radishes, achaar (pickle) and yogurt. In roadside Dhaka restaurants, we breakfast on porota-mamlet. Not paratha and omelette, but porota and mamlet.

Tariq Ali is a historian, cook and avid player of Civilization. He wishes his lady Sim-Sima would eat more fruits and vegetables.

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